Volunteer staff at a pop-up vaccination clinic in downtown Toronto are in shock after being harassed for hours on Wednesday by hundreds of angry people demanding second doses of the coronavirus vaccine.
This is not the only clinic this has happened recently; crowds of ineligible people, insisting that they be vaccinated early, besieged clinics across the city.
The pop-up clinic at Cecil Community Center in Chinatown was only vaccinating people who live or work in the area and who had not yet received a COVID-19 vaccine.
There was a good reason for this: Kensington-Chinatown is Toronto’s least vaccinated neighborhood.
The residents, many of whom are racialized, essential workers who go unvaccinated due to language barriers and other accessibility issues, needed urgent protection, clinic staff said.
In an exhibit of what Cecil Community Center executive director Danny Anckle called an “incredible right,” over 200 people, who had already received their first doses, many of them arriving in luxury vehicles, some coming from ‘half an hour away on Wednesday, asked the clinic to shoot them.
Anckle said after members of the ineligible crowd were denied vaccines, they harassed and belittled the volunteers, who told The Star they “continued to treat” the ordeal. He said they refused to return home and instead strolled outside the community center for hours, flouting social distancing rules, as staff urged them to disperse .
“I couldn’t sleep last night,” Anckle said. “I couldn’t get the image of these people out of my head. When you looked at their faces, there was no compassion, a total lack of humanity. It was the best display of privileges I have ever seen.
Dr. Susy Hota, medical director of infection prevention and control at the University Health Network of Toronto, said trying to sneak a second dose is counterproductive.
“The deployment strategy we have adopted is designed not only to protect the most vulnerable people, but also to help reduce the overall risk of transmission,” she said. “It’s designed to help all of us. You have to be patient; before you know it, it will be time for your second dose.
Anckle said many people who wanted a second dose from the clinic arrived with doctor’s notes saying they should be fully vaccinated early.
Hota questions the decisions made by their doctors.
“At the end of the day, the list of those who have priority for vaccines is being reviewed by a group that has been given this task by the province,” she said. “If a doctor has a strong opinion on the types of patients who should be pushed up, they should talk to the decision makers, rather than putting their patients in the middle.”
According to the Ontario government, the only people eligible for a second dose currently are high-risk healthcare workers, patients on dialysis, and First Nations, Inuit and Métis people.
The Cecil pop-up, which dispensed some 2,000 doses over its two days, ran smoothly on opening day Tuesday. Volunteers’ efforts to promote the clinic over Victoria Day weekend, in a myriad of languages, were successful, and the line of locals they called together got vaccinated while enjoying a performance lion dancers and martial artists.
But on Wednesday, the “vaccine vultures in Versace”, so named by the director of the community center, Beryl Tsang, descended.
“The demographics of the group that showed up for the second doses were quite different from the group that our volunteers worked so hard to bring to the line,” said Anckle. “My office overlooks a parking lot, which was full of luxury SUVs yesterday. These are the cars in which they finally left.
Anckle said many of the crowd appeared to know each other.
“Online, these people were aggressive towards volunteers, staff and legitimate vaccine customers,” said Anckle. “Abusive, aggressive, belligerent and certainly very intimidating towards the staff. Several times one of the volunteers called me to talk to someone because he was violent.
Every time Ankle stepped out to de-escalate, the crowd overwhelmed him, throwing questions at him.
“They demanded to be seen and couldn’t understand why they couldn’t be seen,” he said. “They demanded to know how many shots we had left and how many had been dealt. Obviously, the answers I gave them were not met. “
Anckle said he had tried to explain to the “vaccinated vultures” that, since they had already received their first doses, they were much more protected than the unvaccinated locals for whom he was trying to reserve doses. Plus, the people he spoke to already had dates for their second shoot – they just didn’t want to wait.
“They just couldn’t understand that we wanted everyone in the neighborhood to get their first dose,” he said. “I just couldn’t figure out what was going on. They were totally unaware of the existence of others.
The Cecil Community Center isn’t the only pop-up in Toronto that has had a vulture problem. In mid-May, Juan Carlos Mezo volunteered at a pop-up at the Glen Long Community Center in North York, which was set up to serve the Latin American community in Toronto. Like Cecil’s, this pop-up, intended only to provide residents with their first doses of vaccine, has sort of attracted people demanding their second vaccines.
“For me and for other volunteers, the experience has been quite frustrating and overwhelming,” said Mezo. “I don’t think they even realized that many of us were volunteers trying to serve our community. “
Mezo said many claimed to have “seen on the internet” that they could get their second dose at Glen Long and refused to believe it when volunteers told them that was not true.
“A lot of them felt so empowered that they even raised their voices, got angry, got back to their car and came back with more people – partners, family, friends – to put more pressure on the staff and volunteers, ”he said. .
Mezo said that the “selfish attitude” he saw in the pop-up – especially when he saw the crowd grow increasingly upset to see the Latin American frontline workers that the clinic had been in. setting up to get vaccinated before them – had left him disillusioned.
“We all want to be vaccinated as soon as possible, but unfortunately it has become a competition,” he said. “It shouldn’t be like that.”